Rosa Slobodinsky and Voltairine de Cleyre, “The Individualist and the Communist” (1891)

THE INDIVIDUALIST AND THE COMMUNIST.

A DIALOGUE.

INDIVIDUALIST: “Our host is engaged and requests that I introduce myself to—I beg your pardon, sir, but have I not the pleasure of meeting the Communist speaker who addressed the meeting on Blank street last evening?”

COMMUNIST: “Your face seems familiar to me, too.”

INDV.: “Doubtless you may have seen me there, or at some kindred place. I am glad at the opportunity to talk with you as your speech proved you to be somewhat of a thinker. Perhaps—”

COM.: “Ah, indeed, I recognize you now. You are the apostle of capitalistic Anarchism!”

INDV.: “ Capitalistic Anarchism ? Oh, yes, if you choose to call it so. Names are indifferent to me; I am not afraid of bugaboos. Let it be so, then, capitalistic Anarchism.”

COM: “Well, I will listen to you. I don’t think your arguments will have much effect, however. With which member of your Holy Trinity will you begin: free land, free money, or free competition?”

INDV.: “Whichever you prefer.”

COM.: “Then free competition. Why do you make that demand? Isn’t competition froe now?”

INDV.: “No. But one of the three factors in production is free. Laborers are free to compete among themselves, and so are capitalists to a certain extent. But between laborers and capitalists there is no competition whatever, because through governmental privilege granted to capital, whence the volume of the currency and the rate of interest is regulated, the owners of it are enabled to keep the laborers dependent on them for employment, so making the condition of wage-subjection perpetual. So long as one man, or class of men, are able to prevent others from working for themselves because they cannot obtain the means of production or capitalize their own products, so long those others are not free to compete freely with those to whom privilege gives the means. For instance, can you see any competition between the farmer and his hired man? Don’t you think he would prefer to work for himself? Why does the farmer employ him? Is it not to make some profit from his labor? And does the hired man give him that profit out of pure good nature? Would he not rather have the full product of his labor at his own disposal?”

COM.: “And what of that? What does that prove?”

INDV.: “I am coming to that directly. Now, does this relation between the farmer and his man in any way resemble a cooperative affair between equals, free to compete, but choosing to work together for mutual benefit? You know it does not. Can’t you see that since the hired man does not willingly resign a large share of his product to his employer (and it is out of human nature to say he does), there must be something which forces him to do it? Can’t you see that the necessity of an employer is forced upon him by his lack of ability to command the means of production? He cannot employ himself, therefore he must sell his labor at a disadvantage to him who controls the land and capital. Hence he is not free to compete with his employer any more than a prisoner is free to compete with his jailer for fresh air.

COM.: “Well, I admit that much. Certainly the employé cannot compete with his employer.”

INDV.: “Then you admit that there is not free competition in the present state of society. In other words, you admit that the laboring class are not free to compete with the holders of capital, because they have not, and cannot get, the means of production. Now for your ‘what of that?’ It follows that if they had access to land and opportunity to capitalize the product of their labor they would either employ themselves, or, if employed by others, their wages, or remuneration, would rise to the full product of their toil, since no one would work for another for less than he could obtain by working for himself.”

COM.: “But your object is identical with that of Communism! Why all this to convince me that the means of production must be taken from the hands of the few and given to all? Communists believe that; it is precisely what we are fighting for.”

INDV.: “You misunderstand me if you think we wish to take from or give to any one. We have no scheme for regulating distribution. We substitute nothing, make no plans. We trust to the unfailing balance of supply and demand. We say that with equal opportunity to produce, the division of product will necessarily approach equitable distribution, but we have no method of ‘enacting’ such equalization.”

Com.: ‘‘But will not some be strong and skillful, others weak and unskillful? Will not one-deprive the other because he is more shrewd?”

INDV.: “Impossible! Have I not just shown you that the reason one man controls another’s manner of living is because he controls the opportunities to produce? He does this through a special governmental privilege. Now, if this privilege is abolished, land becomes free, and ability to capitalize products removing interest, and one man is stronger or shrewder than another, he nevertheless can make no profit from that other’s labor, because he cannot stop him from employing himself The cause of subjection is removed.”

COM.: “YOU call that equality! That one man shall have more than others simply because he is stronger or smarter? Your system is no better than the present. What are we struggling against but that very inequality in people’s possessions?”

INDV.: “But what is equality? Does equality mean that I shall enjoy what you have produced? By no means. Equality simply means the freedom of every individual to develop all his being, without hindrance from another, be he stronger or weaker.”

COM.: “What! You will have the weak person suffer because he is weak? He may need as much, or more, than a strong one, but if he is not able to produce it what becomes of his equality?”

INDV.: “I have nothing against your dividing your product with the weaker man if you desire to do so.”

COM.: “There you are with charity again. Communism wants no charity.”

INDV.: I have often marveled on the singularity of Communistic mathematics. My act you call charity, our act is not charity. If one person does a kind act you stigmatize it; if one plus one, summed up and called a commune, does the same thing, you laud it By some species of alchemy akin to the transmutation of metals, the arsenic of charity becomes the gold of justice! Strange calculation! Can you not see that you are running from a bugaboo again? You change the name, but the character of an action is not altered by the number of people participating in it.”

COM.: “But it is not the same action. For me to assist you out of pity is the charity of superior possession to the inferior. But to base society upon the principle: ‘From each according to his capacity, and to each according to his needs’ is not charity in any sense.”

INDV.: “That is a finer discrimination than logic can find any basis for. But suppose that, for the present, we drop the discussion of charity, which is really a minor point, as a further discussion will show.”

COM.: “But I say it is very important. See! Here are two workmen. One can make five pair of shoes a day; the other, perhaps, not more than three. According to you, the less rapid workmen will be deprived of the enjoyments of life, or at any rate will not be able to get as much as the other, because of a natural inability, a thing not his fault, to produce as much as his competitor.”

INDV.: “It is true that under our present conditions, there are such differences in productive power. But these, to a large extent, would be annihilated by the development of machinery and the ability to use it in the absence of privilege. Today the majority of trade-people are working at uncongenial occupations. Why? Because they have neither the chance for finding out for what they are adapted, nor the opportunity of devoting themselves to it if they had. They would starve to death while searching; or, finding it, would only bear the disappointment of being kept outside the ranks of an already overcrowded pathway of life. Trades are, by force of circumstances, what formerly they were by law, matters of inheritance. I am a tailor because by father was a tailor, and it was easier for him to introduce me to that mode of making a living than any other, although I have no special adaptation for it. But postulating equal chances, that is free access and non-interest bearing capital, when a man finds himself unable to make shoes as well or as rapidly as his co-worker, he would speedily seek a more congenial occupation.”

COM.: “And he will be traveling from one trade to another like a tramp after lodgings!”

INDV: “Oh no; his lodgings will be secure! When you admitted that competition is not now free, did I not say to you that when it becomes so, one of two things must happen: either the laborer will employ himself, or the contractor must pay him the full value of his product. The result would be increased demand for labor. Able to employ himself, the producer will get the full measure of his production, whether working independently, by contract, or cooperatively, since the competition of opportunities, if I may so present it, would destroy the possibility of profits. With the reward of labor raised to its entire result, a higher standard of living will necessarily follow; people will want more in proportion to their intellectual development; with the gratification of desires come new wants, all of which guarantees constant labor-demand. Therefore, even your trades-tramp will be sure of his existence.

“But you must consider further that the business of changing trades is no longer the difficult affair it was formerly. Years ago, a mechanic, or laborer, was expected to serve from four to seven years’ apprenticeship. No one was a thorough workman until he knew all the various departments of his trade. Today the whole system of production is revolutionized. Men become specialists. A shoemaker, for instance, spends his days in sewing one particular seam. The result is great rapidity and proficiency in a comparatively short apace of time. No great amount of strength or skill is required; the machine furnishes both. Now, you will readily see that, even supposing an individual changes his vocation half a dozen times, he will not travel very long before he finds that to which he is adapted, and in which he can successfully compete with others.”

COM.: “But admitting this, don’t you believe there will always be some who can produce more than their brothers? What is to prevent their obtaining advantages over the less fortunate?”

INDV.: “Certainly I do believe there are such differences in ability, but that they will lead to the iniquity you fear I deny. Suppose A does produce more than B, does he in anyway injure the latter so long as he does not prevent B from applying his own labor to exploit nature, with equal facilities as himself, either by self-employment or by contract with others?”’

COM.: “Is that what you call right? Will that produce mutual fellowship among human beings? When I see that you are enjoying things which I cannot hope to get, what think you will be my feelings toward you? Shall I not envy and hate you, as the poor do the rich today.”

INDV.: “Why, will you hate a man because he has finer eyes or better health than you? Do you want to demolish a person’s manuscript because he excels you in penmanship? Would you cut the extra length from Samson’s hair, and divide it around equally among al short-haired people? Will you share a slice from the poet’s genius and put it in the common storehouse so everybody can go and take some? If there happened to be a handsome woman in your neighborhood who devotes her smiles to your brother, shall you get angry and insist that they be ‘distributed according to the needs’ of the Commune? The differences in natural ability are not, in freedom, great enough to injure any one or disturb the social equilibrium. No one man can produce more than three others; and even granting that much you can see that it would never create the chasm which lies between Vanderbilt and the switchman on his tracks.”

COM.: “But in establishing equal justice, Communism would prevent even the possibility of injustice.”

INDV,: “Is it justice to take from talent to reward incompetency? Is it justice to virtually say that the tool is not to the toiler, nor the product to the producer, but to others? Is it justice to rob toil of incentive? The justice you seek lies not in such injustice, where material equality could only be attained at the dead level of mediocrity. As freedom of contract enlarges, the nobler sentiments and sympathies invariably widen. With freedom of access to land and to capital, no glaring inequality in distribution could result. No workman rises far above or sinks much below the average day’s labor. Nothing but the power to enslave through controlling opportunity to utilize labor force could ever create such wide differences as we now witness.”

COM.: “Then you hold that your system will practically result in the same equality Communism demands. Yet, granting that, it will take a hundred years, or a thousand, perhaps, to bring it about. Meanwhile people are starving. Communism doesn’t propose to wait. It proposes to adjust things here and now; to arrange matters more equitably while we are here to see it, and not wait till the sweet impossible sometime that our great, great grand children may see the dawn of. Why can’t you join in with us and help us to do something?”

INDV.: “Yea, we hold that comparative equality will obtain, but pre-arrangement, institution, ‘direction’ can never bring the desired result—free society. Waving the point that any arrangement is a blow at progress, it really is an impossible thing to do. Thoughts, like things, grow. You cannot jump from the germ to perfect tree in a moment. No system of society can be instituted today which will apply to the demands of the future; that, under freedom will adjust itself. This is the essential difference between Communism and cooperation. The one fixes, adjusts, arranges things, and tends to the rigidity which characterizes the cast off shells of past societies; the other trusts to the unfailing survival of the fittest, and the broadening of human sympathies with freedom; the surety that that which is in the line of progress tending toward the industrial ideal, will, in a free field, obtain by force of its superior attraction. Now, you must admit, either that there will be under freedom, different social arrangements in different societies, some Communistic, others quite the reverse, and that competition will necessarily rise between them, leaving to results to determine which is the best, or you must crush competition, institute Communism, deny freedom, and fly in the face of progress. What the world needs, my friend, is not new methods of instituting things, but abolition of restrictions upon opportunity.”


The Twentieth Century 6 no 25 (June 18, 1891): 3-6.

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Voltairine de Cleyre, “A Correction” (1907)

Owing to a perhaps natural misunderstanding, it was stated in the American report to the Amsterdam Congress that I am a worker in the cause of Anarchist Communism. The report should have said Anarchism, simply, as I am not now, and never have been at any time, a Communist. I was for several years an individualist, but becoming convinced that a number of the fundamental propositions of individualistic economy would result in the destruction of equal liberty, I relinquished those beliefs. In doing so, however, I did not accept the proposed economy of Communism, which in some respects would entail the same result, destruction of equal freedom; always, of course, in my opinion, which I very willingly admit should not be weighed by others as of equal value with the opinions of those who make economy a thorough study, but which must, nevertheless, remain supreme with me. I am an Anarchist, simply, without economic label attached.

Mother Earth 2 no. 10  (December, 1907): 473.

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Voline, “On Synthesis” (1924) (part 1 of 2)

On Synthesis

I.

Legend maintains that Jesus Christ gave no response to the question of Pontius Pilate: “What is truth?” And it is very likely that in these tragic moments he hardly had the heart to concern himself with philosophical arguments. But even if he had had the time and the desire to engage in a controversy concerning the essence of truth, it would not have been easy for him to respond in a definitive manner.

Many centuries have passed since then. Humanity has made more than one step toward knowledge of the world. The question of Pontius Pilate has troubled humanity, it has made people think, work and seek in all directions, and it has brought suffering to a great number of minds. The ways and methods of the search for truth have varied many times… Yet the question always remains without an answer.


Three principal obstacles arise along the path we follow to seek and establish objective truth, no matter in what direction or in what region we hope to find it.

The first of these obstacles is impressed with a purely theoretical and philosophical character. In fact, the truth is the great existing All: everything that exists in reality. To know the truth means to know what is. But to know what is, to know the veritable truth, the essence of things (“things in themselves”) would appear to be, for several reasons, impossible at this time, and perhaps it will always be so. The essential reason for that impossibility is the following: The world would never be for us anything but the idea that we fashion of it. it presents itself to us, not as it is in reality, but as it is depicted to us by our (or more) poor, false senses, and by our incomplete and crude methods of knowing things. Both are very limited, subjective and fickle. Here is an example drawn from the domain of the senses: as we know, there exists in nature, in reality, neither light, nor colors, nor sounds (there exists only what we believe to be movements, oscillations); however, we have above all an impression of the monde consisting of light and colors (oscillations collected and transformed with the aid of our visual organs) and sounds (movements collected and transformed by our auditory apparatus.) Let us also not that a whole series of phenomena unquestionably taking place in nature elude the organs of our senses. To serve as an example in the domain of knowledge, it is enough to indicate the fact that, constantly, certain theories are rejected to be replaced by others. (A very recent example is that of the famous theory of Einstein on relativity tending to “devastate” all our systems of knowledge.) The only thing that I know immediately is that I exist (cogito, ergo sum, I think, therefore I am) and that there exists some reality outside of me. Without knowing it exactly, I know nonetheless that it exists: first, because it I exist, there must exist some reality that has created me; second, because some entity that is found outside of me communicates to me certain impressions. It is that reality, the essence of which I do not know, that I call world and life; and it is that reality that I seek to know as much as it will lend itself to the knowing.

Obviously, if we wanted to always consider that obstacle, it would only remain for us to say once and for all: everything that we think we know is only lies, deception, illusion; we cannot know the essence of things, for our means of knowing are far too imperfect… And on that basis, we would have to renounce every sort of scientific labor, every work in search of the truth and of knowledge of the world, considering every attempt of that sort perfectly useless and destined to never succeed.

However, in the overwhelming majority of our scientific acts, acts of thought as well as practice—if we set aside the domain of purely philosophical speculation—we hardly consider that obstacle: first, because if we did, we would truly have to renounce all scientific activity, every search for the truth (something which, for many reasons, is entirely unacceptable to us); and then, for we have certain reasons to believe that our impressions reflect all the same, up to a certain point, reality such as it is, and that our understanding comes closer and closer to knowledge of that reality, to knowledge of the truth. It is this last argument in particular, together with other impetuses, that leads us to widen and deepen without ceasing our work of research.

Taking as data, — that is as having for us a real, concrete meaning, common to us all, — our impressions and especially our knowledge of the world and of life; taking as given the milieu, concrete for us, in which we live, work and act, — we think and we seek on the bases and within the limits of that reality as it presents itself: a subjective and conventional reality.

The question of truth is equally posed within the limits of that reality. And, above all, to decipher that reality, accessible to our understanding and our impressions, as well as to pursue the continual widening of its knowable limits — this already appears to us as a problem of the highest importance.

But, in this case as well, we see loom up before us, and the path of research and of the establishment of truth, two other obstacles, of a concrete character as well.

Second obstacle. — Like life, truth is undivided. Truth (like life) is the great All. To know this or that part of the truth still cannot mean that we know the Truth (although it is sometimes necessary to go from knowledge of the parts to the knowledge of the whole). To know the truth — this means, to be precise, to know all the universe in its entirety: all of existence, all of life, all the paths of life, as well as all its forces, all its laws and tendencies, for all times and all terms, in all its different secrets, in all its phenomena and separate details, as well as in its entirety. Now, even if it was only within the limits of the world intelligible to our faculties of impression and understanding, — to embrace the universe, to know life and penetrate its inner meaning appears to us impossible at present, and perhaps it will never be possible.

Third obstacle. – The most characteristic trait of life is its eternal and uninterrupted movement, its changes, its continual transformations. Thus, there exists no firm, constant and determined truth. Or rather, if there exists a general, complete truth, its defining quality would be an incessant movement of transformation, a continual displacement of all the elements of which it is composed. Consequently, the knowledge of that truth supposes a complete knowing, a clear definition, an exact reduction of all the laws, all the forms, all the combinations, possibilities and consequences of all these movements, of all these changes and permutations. Now, such a knowledge, so exact an account of the forces in infinite movement and oscillation, of the continually changing combinations,—even if there exists a certain regularity and an iterative law in these oscillations and changes,—would be something nearly impossible.

II

To know the Truth—that means to know life as it is, to know the true essence of things.

We do not know that true life, [so] we do not know the Truth.

However, we possess some knowledge of it.

As we receive impressions of life and we learn to know it through the testimony of our senses and through the means of knowing that we find at our disposal, precisely as we run up against the obstacles indicated,—we learn, first, that life is some great synthesis, as reality as well as personal feeling: some resultant of a quantity of diverse forces and energies, of factors of all sort.

We also learn that this synthesis is subject to a continuous movement, to incessant variations; we know that that resultant is never found at rest, but that, on the contrary, it oscillates and varies without ceasing.

To know the Truth—that would mean to embrace, know and understand the whole of this global synthesis in all of its details, in all its entirety and in all its eternal movement, in all its combinations and its uninterrupted variations.

If we know life in its details, in its entirety and in its movements, we will know the Truth. And that truth will be the resultant, constantly in movement, of a quantity of forces: a resultant of which we should also know all the movements.


We know neither the true life, nor its synthesis; we know neither its reality, nor its meaning, nor its movements. For us, life in its entirety is the great enigma, the great mystery. We only manage, from time to time, to pluck some fragments of its synthesis from the air…

We do not know the authentic truth, the objective truth of things. Not only have we still not managed to discover the truth, but we do not know if we will ever discover it. We only succeed, from time to time, in finding some isolated grains of the truth—dispersed and brilliant sparkles of precious gold, from which it is still impossible for us to form anything whole…

But—we seek the truth (or to put it better, some of us do.) We have sought it for centuries and thousands of years. We scan on all sides, in all directions—obstinately, offering all our forces to the search, painfully, sorrowfully.

And if we know that life is a great synthesis, we know, consequently, that the search for truth is the search for synthesis; that the path of truth is that of synthesis; that in seeking the truth, it is important to always remember the synthesis, to always aspire to it.

And since we know that life is a continuous movement, we should, in seeking the truth, constantly consider that fact.

III

The field of interest that particularly interests us is not that of pure philosophy and speculation. The circle within which our interests, our aspirations and our attempts principally move is the much more concrete and accessible one of the problems of biology and above all of sociology.

Seeking to establish some social conception, to intervene actively in social life and to influence it in a certain direction, we wish to discover in that concrete domain the guiding truth.

What do we do to find it?

Generally we take up certain phenomena in the given domain of life, we analyze them, we seek to know them and penetrate their meaning.

It often happens that we succeed in drawing the exact assessment from some phenomenon and that, consequently, we manage to put our finger on a coin, on a part, on a fragment of the truth.

Four fundamental errors are very frequent—and very characteristic—in these cases.

1. Human analysis is not infallible. It does not lead directly to the exact and indubitable, absolute truth. In every analysis, in every human research, we inevitably encounter, along with some scraps of truth grasped on the spot, more or less great errors, lapses, sometimes oversights and clumsy false judgments—thus, [we make] assertions not in conformity with the truth. We generally forget that this is the case, and instead of seeking to establish and to eliminate these errors, to find and apply the necessary corrections, we disregard them or else we do still worse—we consider our errors as an expression of the truth, so that we disfigure it and distort its value.

2. Save for very rare exceptions, we are generally inclined to exaggerate the significance, sometimes very minuscule, of the bit of truth found by us, to generalize it, to make of it the whole truth, to extend it, if not to life in its entirety, at least to phenomena of much larger and more complicated order, and at the same time to reject other elements of the truth we seek.

3. We let ourselves be carried away by the analysis and a generalization, erroneous from its immediate results, we constantly forget to consider the second moment—and that is the most essential one—necessary to the search for the truth: of the true and accurate way of generalization; of the necessity,—the analysis once made and a phenomenon, a fragment of truth grasped and understood,—not to take hold of that bit and raise it to the rank of keystone, by making it the entire truth, but, on the contrary, to remember other phenomena relating to the same order of ideas, to seek to fathom their meaning as well, to compare them with the bit of truth discovered and to do everything in order to establish a correct synthesis. This problem of the second degree generally escapes us. We forget that life is a synthesis of a great number of factors.

4. We forget at each step that movement and variability never cease; we forget that there exists no apathetic truth, that in life “everything flows,” that life and truth are the dynamics par excellence. Habitually, we do not account for this factor of an extreme importance and value: the uninterrupted dynamism of life and truth. However, just as it would be erroneous to take the form adopted at a certain moment by an amoeba in motion for its constant form, it would be a mistake to suppose a similar rigidity in the essence of truth: what has just been (or what could have been) truth moment a moment ago—is not longer truth in the following moment. The synthesis itself is not immutable. It is only a resultant constantly in motion, which sometimes comes closer to one of the factors and sometimes to another, and never remains close to one or the other for long. We do not take sufficient account of this singularly important fact. [1]

The errors indicated have a particularly harmful importance pour for the domain of the human sciences, for the comprehension and study of our social life, which represents an exceptionally complicated synthesis of particularly numerous factors, the majority of which are of a special order, a movement and a series of combinations—both exceptionally complicated—of the most diverse elements (which, moreover, are far from being solely mechanical.)

It is precisely in this domain that the most serious errors most often take place. It is especially the numerous followers of the seekers of truth who are guilty of this. The mission to reexamine their “truths,” to redress their errors and make the necessary corrections later falls to others.

Here are some examples that could serve as an illustration: the definition made by Marx-Engels, and especially by their followers, of the role of the economic factor in history (the so-called “historical materialism”)—that excellent but unilateral (and consequently not precisely correct) analysis, and—the exaggerated and “firm” (consequently quite inexact) deductions that have been drawn from it; the theory of classes of Karl Marx and his followers—that analysis, just as brilliant, but narrow and insufficient (and thus erroneous on many points), and the perverse deductions that have been made from it; the “law” of the struggle for existence (Ch. Darwin and also, and especially, his supporters in the various branches of science) with all its errors and exaggerations; the unilateral individualist theory of Max Stirner (and especially of his followers) and so many others.

The economic doctrine of Marx and his theory classes, the individualist conception of Stirner, as well as the law of the struggle for existence de Darwin, etc., etc., are always admirable analyses—well directed and called to give some important results—of one of the factors, of one of the elements of the complicated and vital synthesis, but in order to approach the truth of the synthesis, all these theories are lacking one essential thing: the understanding of the necessity of juxtaposing them with the analysis of other elements and other factors, with the deductions that can be made from the results of these other analyses. They lack the desire to account for phenomena of a different order, the aspiration to seek the synthesis. We forget that real life is a synthesis of different series of phenomena; that that synthesis is moreover the moving and variable outcome of these series, series that are also constantly in movement. We lose sight of the real and moving synthetic nature of life and the necessity of a corresponding synthetic character in scientific knowledge. This is the source of the errors of generalization and deduction. Instead of approaching the truth, we distance ourselves from it.


This erroneous attitude with regard to the phenomena examined, to the bits of truth discovered, causes considerable damage to all our attempts at social construction, for they cause us to wander very far from the road leading to a precise solution of the problems that loom up before us.

Indeed, if in each truth found by us we inevitably find mixed an alloy of non-truth; if every partial truth established by us is never the entire truth; if truth, like life itself, is always synthetic and moving,—then in our constructions we approach the truth, we reckon and understand vital phenomena and processes that much more correctly and exactly to the extent that we verify more meticulously the bit of truth found, to the extent that we compare it with other phenomena and bits of truth discovered in the same domain, to the extent that we approach synthesis and that we constantly recall the essential fact of the uninterrupted movement of all things. And we distance ourselves from the truth, from a proper understanding of life, from a correct conception—that much more as we concern ourselves less with verifying, comparing and contrasting, to the extent, finally, that we distance ourselves from synthesis and the idea of movement.

It is very probable that we will never attain the knowledge of a correct and complete synthesis. But the principle that must guide us is a constant effort to approach it to the greatest extent possible.

Each time that we close our eyes to the defects and the vices of the bits of truth found by us, we distance ourselves from the result sought. The proper method consists, on the contrary, to carefully account for these errors and of seeking their correction.

Each time that we take a fragment of truth found by us for the whole and only truth, and we reject the other fragments, sometimes without even taking the trouble of examining them closely—we distance ourselves from the correct solution. The correct method consists of juxtaposing each fragment found with others, to strive to discover some always new parts of the truth and to seek to make them agree, so that they form one single whole. That is the only way that we can reach our goal.

Each time that we limit ourselves to drawing the appraisal of our analysis made from a single aspect of the question, and we forget the necessity of continuing our work of research by aspiring to accomplish its synthesis with the other aspects—we distance ourselves more from the goal, however brilliant and exact our work of analysis has been. Each time that we forget to take into account the constant factors of movement and variability, and we take the bit of truth found by us for something stable, firm, “petrified,”—we distance ourselves from the truth. The true path is to always account for the multiplicity of factors that all find themselves engaged in a continuous movement and to seek the resultant (also moving itself) of these factors.


[1] This phenomenon of the “constant variability of the resultant,” as well as the importance of its application to the study of the facts of human history, will be examined in detail in another work.


[to be concluded in part 2]

[Articles appearing in numbers 25 and 27, March and April 1924, of the Revue anarchiste]

Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur

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Voline, “Synthesis (Anarchist)”

volineSYNTHESIS (ANARCHIST)

We designate by the term “anarchist synthesis” a tendency existing presently in the heart of the libertarian movement, seeking to reconcile and then to “synthesize” the different currents of ideas that divide this movement into several fractions, more or less hostile to one another. It is a question, at base, of unifying, to a certain degree, anarchist theory and also the anarchist movement in a harmonious, organized, finished whole. I say “to a certain degree,” since, naturally, the anarchist idea could never, should never become rigid, immutable, stagnant. It must remain flexible, living, rich in varied ideas and tendencies. But flexibility must not signify confusion. And, on the other hand, between immobility and free floating there exists an intermediary state. It is precisely that intermediary state that the “anarchist synthesis” seeks to specify, settle and attain.

It was especially in Russia, during the revolution of 1917, that the necessity of such a unification, such a “synthesis,” made itself felt. Already very materially weak (few militants, no good means of propaganda, etc. ) in comparison to other political and social currents, anarchism saw itself weaken still more, during the Russian Revolution, through some internal disputes that tore it apart. The anarcho-syndicalists did not want to get along with the anarchist-communists and, at the same time, both quarreled with the individualists (not to mention other tendencies). That state of things made a painful impression on several comrades of various tendencies. Persecuted and finally chased from Great Russia by the Bolshevik government, some of these comrades went to campaign in Ukraine where the political atmosphere was more favorable, and where, at first with some Ukrainian comrades, they decided to create a unified anarchist movement, recruiting serious and active militants where they found them, without distinction of tendencies. The movement rapidly acquired an exceptional breadth and vigor. In order to gain a foothold and establish itself once and for all, it lacked only one thing: a positive theoretical basis.

Knowing me to be a resolute enemy of the harmful quarrels among the various currents of anarchism, and believe that I felt, like them, the necessity of reconciling them, some comrades came to seek me in a little town in central Russia where I was staying, and proposed that I depart from Ukraine, to take part in the creation of a unified movement, to furnish it with a theoretical basis and develop the thesis in the libertarian press.

I accepted the proposition. In November 1918, the unified anarchist movement in Ukraine was finally underway. Several groups would form and send their delegates to the first constitutive conference, which created the “Nabat Anarchist Confederation of the Ukraine.” That conference drafted and unanimously adopted a Declaration proclaiming the fundamental principles of the new body. It was decided that in the very near future that brief declaration of principles would be amplified, completed and commented upon in the libertarian press. The stormy events prevented that theoretical work. The Nabat confederation was bound to lead to uninterrupted and bitter struggles. Soon it was, in its turn, “liquidated” by the Bolshevik authorities that were installed in Ukraine. Apart from some newspaper articles, the Declaration of the first conference of Nabat was and remains the sole exposé of the unifying (or “synthesizing”) tendency in the Russian anarchist movement.

The three dominant ideas that must, according to the Declaration, be accepted by all serious anarchists in order to unify the movement, are the following:

1) Definitive acceptance of the syndicalist principle, which indicates the true method of social revolution;

2) Definitive acceptance of the (libertarian) communist principle, which establishes the organizational basis of the new society that is forming;

3) Definitive acceptance of the individualist principle, the total emancipation and the happiness of the individual being the true aim of the social revolution and the new society.

While expanding on these ideas the Declaration tried to clearly define the notion of the “social revolution” and to destroy the tendency of certain libertarians seeking to adapt anarchism to the so-called “transitional period.”

That said, we would prefer, instead of again taking up the arguments of the Declaration, to develop the theoretical arguments for the synthesis ourselves.

The first question to resolve is this:

Is the existence of various hostile anarchist currents, arguing among themselves, a positive or negative fact? Does the separation of the libertarian idea and movement into several tendencies opposing one another, does it foster or, on the contrary, does it hinder the success of the anarchist conception? If it recognized as favorable, all discussion is useless. If, on the contrary, it is considered harmful, we must draw from that admission all the necessary conclusions.

To this first question, we respond here:

In the beginning, when the anarchist idea was still little developed, confuse, it was natural and useful to analyze it from all sides, to break it down and examine each of its elements in depth, to compare them, to contrast them with one another, etc. That is what has been done. Anarchism was broken down into several elements (or currents.) Thus the whole, too general and vague, was dissected, which helped to deal in depth, to study thoroughly that whole as well as those elements. In that period, then, the dismemberment of the anarchist idea was a positive thing. Various people concerning themselves with the various currents of anarchism, both the details and the whole gained in depth and precision. But afterwards, once that first work was accomplished, after the elements of anarchist thought (communism, individualism, syndicalism) were turned over and over in every way, it was necessary to think of recreate, with these well worked elements, the organic whole from which they came. After a fundamental analysis, it was necessary to return (deliberately) to the beneficial synthesis.

A bizarre fact: we no longer think of that necessity. The people interested in a given element of anarchism end up substituting it for the whole. Naturally, they soon find themselves in disagreement and soon in conflict with those who treat other bits of the entire truth in the same manner. So, instead of reaching the idea of merging the scattered elements (which, taken separately, were no longer good for much of anything) into an organic whole, the anarchists undertook for long years the fruitless task of hatefully opposing their “currents” to one another. Each considered their “current,” their fragment as the only truth and fought bitterly with the partisans of the other currents. Thus commenced, in the libertarian ranks, that milling in place, characterized by blindness and mutual animosity, which continues into the present and which must be considered harmful to the normal development of the anarchist idea.

Our conclusion is clear. The carving up of the anarchist idea into several currents has fulfilled its role. It no longer has any utility. Nothing can justify it any longer. Now, it leads the movement into an impasse, causes it enormous harm and no longer offers it—nor can offer it—anything positive. The first period—when anarchism sought itself, defined itself and inevitably divided itself at the task—has ended. It belongs to the past. It is high time to move on.

If the dispersion of anarchism is presently a negative, detrimental fact, we must seek to put an end to it. It is a question of remembering the entire ensemble, of sticking the scattered elements back together, of rediscovering and deliberately reconstructing the abandoned synthesis.

Then another question looms: is this synthesis actually, presently possible? Wouldn’t it be a utopia? Could we furnish it a solid theoretical basis?

We respond: yes, a synthesis of anarchism (or, if you wish, a “synthetic” anarchism) is perfectly possible. There is nothing utopian about it. Rather strong reasons of the theoretical order speak in its favor. Let us briefly note some of these reasons, the most important, in their logical series:

1) If anarchism aspires to life, if it counts on a future triumph, if it seeks to become an organic and permanent element of life, one of its active, fertilizing, creative forces, then it must seek to situate itself as close as possible to life, to its essence, to its ultimate truth. It’s ideological bases must agree as much as possible with the fundamental elements of life. It is clear, in fact, that if the primordial ideas of anarchism we found in contradiction with the true elements of life and evolution, anarchism could not be vital. Now, what is life? Could week, in some way, define and formulate its essence, grasp and settle its characteristic traits? Yes, we can do it. It is a question, certainly, not of a scientific formula of life—a formula that does not exist—but of a more or less clear and correct definition of its visible, palpable, conceivable essence. In this order of ideas, life is, above all, a great synthesis: and immense and complicated ensemble, an organic and original whole, of multiple and varied elements.

2) Life is a synthesis. So what is the essence and what is the originality of this synthesis? The crux of life is that the greatest variety of its elements—which, moreover, finds itself in a perpetual movement—realizes, at the same time and as perpetually, a certain unity or, rather, a certain equilibrium. The essence of life, the essence of it sublime synthesis, is the constant tendency towards equilibrium, indeed the constant realization of a certain equilibrium, in the greatest diversity and in a perpetual movement. (Not that the idea of an equilibrium of certain elements as being the bio-physical essence of life is confirmed by scientific physico-chemical experiments.)

3) Life is a synthesis. Life (the universe, nature) is an equilibrium (a sort of unity) in the diversity and in the movement (or, if you wish, a diversity and a movement in equilibrium). Consequently, if anarchism desires to march hand in hand with life, if it seeks to be one of its organic elements, if it aspires to agree with it and lead to a true result, instead of finding itself in opposition with it in order to be finally rejected, it must, also, without renouncing the diversity or movement, to realize also, and always, the equilibrium, the synthesis, the unity.

But it is not enough to affirm that anarchism can be synthetic: it must be synthetic. The synthesis of anarchism is not only possible, not only desirable: it is indispensable. While preserving the living diversity of its elements, while avoiding its stagnation, which accepting its movement—essential conditions of his vitality—anarchism must seek, at the same time, the equilibrium in that diversity and that movement itself.

Diversity and movement without equilibrium is chaos. Equilibrium without diversity or movement is stagnation, death. Diversity and movement in equilibrium, such is the synthesis of life. Anarchism must be varied, moving and, at the same time, balanced, synthetic, unchanging. In the opposite case, it would not be vital.

4) Let us note, finally, that the true heart of the diversity and movement of life (and therefore of the synthesis) is creation, the constant production of new elements, new combinations, new movements, of a new equilibrium. Life is a creative diversity. Life is an equilibrium in an uninterrupted creation. Consequently, no anarchist could pretend that “their” current is the unique and constant truth, and that all the other tendencies in anarchism are absurdities. It is, on the contrary, absurd that an anarchist would let themselves enter into the impasse of a single little “truth,” their own, and thus forget the great, real truth of life: the perpetual creation of new forms, of new combinations, of a constantly renewed synthesis.

The synthesis of life is not stationary: it creates, it constantly modifies its elements and their mutual relations.

Anarchism seeks to participate, in the domains that are accessible to it, in the creative acts of life. Consequently, it must be, within the limits of its idea, broad, tolerant, synthetic, while finding itself in creative movement.

The anarchist must observe attentively, with perspicacity, all the serious elements of libertarian thought and of the libertarian movement. Far from diving into any single element, he must seek the equilibrium and synthesis of all the elements given. He must, moreover, constantly analyze and monitor his synthesis, by comparing it with the elements of life itself, in order to always be in perfect harmony with life. Indeed, life never rests in one place; it changes. And, consequently, the role and the mutual relations of the various element of the anarchist synthesis will not always remain the same: in various cases, it will sometimes be one, sometimes another of these elements that must be stressed, relied on, put into action.

A few words on the concrete realization of the synthesis.

1) We must never forget that the realization of the revolution, that the creation of the new forms of life will be incumbent not on us, anarchists isolated or grouped by ideology, but on the vast popular masses who will, alone, will be quite capable of accomplishing that immense destructive and creative task. Our role, in that realization, will be limited to that of a catalyst, of an element of cooperation, guidance and example. As for the forms in which that process will be completed, we can only glimpse them very approximately. It is so much more uncalled for of us to quarrel over some details, instead of preparing ourselves, with a common desire, for the future.

2) It is no less misplaces to reduce all the immensity of life, of the revolution, of the future creation, to some trivial little ideas and some petty disputes. Faced with the great tasks that await us, it is ridiculous, it is shameful to concern ourselves with these petty matters. The libertarians should unite on the basis of the anarchist synthesis. They must create an anarchist movement that is stable, whole, vigorous. As long as they have not created it, they will remain apart from life.

In what concrete forms could we foresee the reconciliation, the unification of the anarchists and then the creation of a unified libertarian movement?

We should emphasize, above all, that we do not imagine that unification as a “mechanical” assembly of the anarchists of various tendencies in a sort of multicolored camp where each would remain in their intransigent position. Such a unification would not be a synthesis, but a sort of chaos. Certainly, a simple, amicable rapprochement of the anarchists of various tendencies and a greater tolerance in their mutual relations (cessation of a violent polemic, collaboration in anarchist publications, participation in the same active organizations, etc.) would be a great step forward in relation to what occurs now in the libertarian ranks. But we consider this reconciliation and this tolerance as only the first step towards the creation of the true anarchist synthesis and of a unified libertarian movement. Our idea of the synthesis and unification goes much farther. It foresees something more fundamental, more “organic.”

We believe that the unification of the anarchists and of the libertarian movement should be pursued, simultaneously, in two ways, notably:

a) We must begin immediately a theoretical work seeking to reconcile, to combine, to synthesize our ideas, which appear, at first sight, heterogeneous. It is necessary to find and to formulate in the various currents of anarchism, on the one hand, everything that must be considered false, not coinciding with the truth of life and needing to be rejected; and, on the other hand, everything that must be noted as being accurate, significant, accepted. It is necessary, then, to combine all the accurate and valuable elements, creating with them a synthetic whole. (It is especially in this first preparatory work that the reconciliation of the anarchists of various tendencies and their mutual tolerance could have great importance as a first decisive step.) And, finally, that ensemble must be accepted by all the serious and militants of anarchism as the basis of the formation of a stable libertarian body, whose members will thus be in agreement on an ensemble of fundamental these accepted by all.

We have already cited the concrete example of such a body: the Nabat confederation, in Ukraine. Let us add here to what we have already said above, that the acceptance by all the members of Nabat of certain common theses did not prevent the comrades of various tendencies from leaning especially, in their activity and propaganda, on the ideas that were dear to them. Thus, some (the syndicalists) occupied themselves above all with the problems concerning method and the organization of the revolution; others (communists) preferred to concern themselves with the economic basis of the new society; the third group (individualists) specifically emphasized the needs, real value and aspirations of the individual. But the mandatory condition, in order to be accepted in Nabat, was the acceptance of all three elements as indispensable parts of the whole and the renunciation of the state of hostility between the various tendencies. The militants were thus united in an “organic” manner, for the all accepted a certain collection of fundamental theses. It is in this way that we depict the concrete unification of the anarchists on the basis of a synthesis of libertarian ideas establish theoretically.

b) Simultaneously and in parallel with that theoretical work, an organization must be created, unified on the basis of anarchism synthetically understood.

To end, let us emphasize once more that we do not at all renounce the diversity of ideas and currents within anarchism. But there is diversity and diversity. That, notably, which exists in our ranks today is an evil, a form of chaos. We would consider its maintenance as a very serious fault. We are of the opinion that the variety of our ideas could be and will be a progressive and fecund element only in the heart of a common movement, of a unified body, constructed on the basis of certain general theses accepted by all the members and on the aspiration to a synthesis.

It is only in the atmosphere of a common urge, it is only under the condition of the search for accurate theses and their acceptance, that our aspirations, our discussions and even our disputes would have value, will be useful and productive. (It was precisely thus in Nabat.) As for the disputes and polemics between little schools of thought, each preaching “its” unique truth, they an only lead to the continuation of the present chaos, to interminable internal quarrels and the stagnation of the movement.

We must discuss when striving to find the fecund unity, and not to impose at any cost “our” truth over that of another. It is only discussion of the first sort that leads to truth. As for the other discussion, it only leads to hostility, to vain quarrels and collapse.

VOLINE.

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Voline to Max Nettlau (1923)

  1. VII. 1923

Dear Comrade,

I will write to you in French, for I write that language easily enough.

So, you ask me for some explanations.

Here they are.

If, in my letter, I have alluded to certain [   ] and [   ], it was precisely because I supposed you in possession of No. 2-3 of the “Rab. Put” [Rabochii Put‘] where our group and I are attacked by the comrades A. Chapiro [Alexander M. Schapiro] and E[fim]. Yartschouk on the subject of the “affaire Rostchine [Rostchin, mentioned by Berkman as in “old anarchist” in The Bolshevik Myth].” (I do not know if you are aware of the situation.) I want to make you aware that these [?] should not play a role in the decisions concerting our theoretical and literary enterprise, should not damage the task, the labor and the relations ayant trait à our revue.—The comrades of the “Comité de la defense anarcho-syndicaliste” have also attacked us (on the same subject—Rostchine) in an American journal (“Голос труженика” of Chicago.) [The Russian characters in the first word are hard to read, but from context it appears the reference is to “Golos truzhenika,” “The Worker’s Voice,” an IWW paper later edited by Maximov.] We respond to these attacks, but that does not prevent us at all from addressing ourselves to all these comrades with the same proposition—to collaborate on our revue. The differences of opinion that exist, from the syndicalist point of view or another, count for nothing there. This is what I want to say to you first of all. Our revue does not combat this or that anarchist idea. It is not a war. It is just the opposite: we strive to seek a libertarian synthesis, precisely making space in it for all the opinion and currents of the anarchist idea. This is the very basis of our revue. And then, I consider myself (and also several of my comrades) syndicalist to a certain degree. Not only are we far from any exclusivism, be it is precisely that we combat every exclusivism

I do not say more for the moment, for I hope that you are already in possession of issue No. 1 of our revue. That issue should tell you more.

To have a more precise idea of the character and direction of our revue, I particularly recommend to your attention:

1) The appeal: “Ко всем товарищи-анархисты и [согбембующи_?]” [“To all fellow anarchists and [?]”] (page 84);

2) The appeal: “Товарищи-анархисты!” [“Fellow anarchists!”] (page 83);

3) The declaration of the Editors: “Oт редакции” [“From the editors”] (page 1).

In translating your article, I was astonished at the agreement I noted on certain points with our mentality. Doubtless, you will easily notice it yourself, by attentively reading the articles indicated.

Also take not of all the “construction” of the revue. It will tell you enough. And then—you will decide.

——

Santillan has given me your manuscript. I am in the process of translating it for No. 2. We are completely in agreement with Santillan on this. It will do no harm to “La Protesta.”

Yes, Santillan has asked me to give him the manuscript, when the translation is done. That is what I will not fail to do.

I recently had some copies of “Гонение” [?] in French. [The reference is almost certainly to “”La persécution contre l’anarchisme en Russie Soviétique,” a translation made by Voline.] But I no longer have them. If you want them, you have only to write to the “Libertaire:” they will send them to you.

We have begun the French translation of “The History of the Makhnovist Movement.” That will be finished around the beginning of the month of September.

We will also translate several articles and extracts from the revue into French (and, perhaps, into German.)

If you come to Berlin, I would be happy to make your acquaintance. It would be necessary then that you warn me of your arrival through “Der Syndikalist” (Warschamerstrasse, 62) or through one of the comrades (Linder or Rocker) for I am terribly busy (there are only two of us here for all the work of editing, correspondence, caisse, literature, translation, etc.) and I live in the vicinity of Berlin.

I await, then, your more or less definitive response.

Write to me in French. If you send articles for the revue, it would be best if they were also written in French.

Cordially,

Voline

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Max Nettlau, “On Centralization” (1909)

[The essay “On Centralization” is one of the few texts from the collection Critica Libertarian that has remained untranslated. For those interested in the questions addressed here, there was ongoing discussion in Les Temps Nouveaux at the time.]

I am happy that someone has finally thought about proportion (1), which, in my opinion, holds the true, practical (automatic, so to speak) solution of the differences between centralization and decentralization. The problem remains complicated nonetheless, for proportion is not a single, unchanging term. I mean that for every organism there must be a certain minimum of proportion in order for it to be viable, and beyond that, it is possible, a higher degree of proportion in order for that organism to be at least as durable, progressive, etc. as others. We have only to think of the monstrosities that are not viable and of human beings, some of whom are so deformed that we are astonished to see them get by and vegetate all the same (but this is not true life.)

In the same way, we see, in Society, so many defective institutions also drag along their lives. But, in thinking of the future Society, we set aside these debris, which lead an artificial life through efforts outside of themselves, and we think of living and effective organisms—that is why proportion must be the essential condition of these new organisms.

I believe—without having read the details—that Fourier was very concerned to seek the proportion for a productive and consumptive organism and that he arrived at phalanxes of 1000 to 1200 persons, as being best able to be self-sufficient.

That is only one hypothesis. Since then, so many attempts at communist colonies and other examples have at least shown that a much more limited number of men is too small and is not effective, nor even viable. On the other hand, the overly large associations for cooperation show themselves as organisms without real life, as sterile and without interest: here, the ensemble completely escapes the individual, while in the little group the ensemble is too close to it and the individual sees its coils and secrets too clearly.

Let us take the example of present-day production from the point of view of the one who has the greatest interest in that production: it is the capitalist (tomorrow, it will be the public). If his establishment is too small, he is absorbed by his industry, knows nothing else, becomes a being entirely out of proportions, confined to his shop. If the establishment is of suitable proportions, and, without allowing him to live without doing anything, does not absorb him completely, that would be best. If the establishment is too large, either he applies all his forces there and truly becomes its slave, or else the establishment escapes him and will be steered by paid directors who are more or less indifferent, as is already the case with all the joint-stock associations, where the shareholders, whatever is said, are powerless before an administration that thinks of itself first.

As for the worker, a labor that he follows closely, like that of past times, could and should interest him. Work in large industry, where his labor is often only partial and often repeated, can no longer interest him. It is only when he sees the whole and the aim before him that interest is recovered.

It results from the present system that personal interest in production disappears, and this is an evil, because it implies the degradation of labor. We want a society where labor does not make itself felt as a sad and hard necessity, but one where it will be the satisfaction of the healthy man’s natural need for activity. For that, it would be necessary that each once again lives their labor and find interest there. The proportions, the dimensions will be very important in this recovery of labor.

The maintenance of large-scale industry, even under the pretext of economizing on labor, will again separate the worker from the work; the indifference will persist, and then there will be a lack of care for the administration of each industry, waste, etc.

So if the Syndicates took possession of the factories, tools and materials of their present trades, it would be disastrous: they would simply continue a system that we want to destroy; it would only be a change of proprietors. In America, for the various branches of production, everything passes through the hands of the trusts of the capitalists — in revolutionary France, it would be the trust of the workers; in both cases it would be a group of pure interests that sets itself up opposite everyone.

This is what the peasants have done for a long time with a great success in various countries: agreement of the peasants and great proprietors, the agrarian parties are in reality business parties who only do what all the Syndicates do, sell their products at the high price possible, without considering the general interests at all.

We have always taken for the essential characteristic and defect of the present social system that the individual interest (of persons or groups, it is the same thing) tramples under foot the general (collective) interest, and the safeguard of the (collective) interest is the first word of all socialism. From that, it seems to me to follow that the project of an appropriation of everything by the respective Syndicates remains on the terrain of the present Society and distances itself from all socialism; for it will be a new division of social wealth between various groups: from the capitalist trusts we will pass to the worker trusts.

I am told that from there we will pass more swiftly to what we truly desire. That remains to be proven and debated; for we can also very well think that this hoarding, monopolist syndicalism will disgust the world so much with collective efforts that we will fall back into a fierce selfishness that will lead to a new enslavement of the weak.

As for proportion in production, this syndical system seems to me to pull away from it more than ever. If syndicalism accomplished that appropriation (something I do not believe in the least), the syndicalist sentiment would be so developed (by struggle) in the members that it is difficult for me to see with whom one would deal on an equal footing. Such a “patriotism” of the group would be created that the feeling for general interests would be very much weakened.

If then, for the exchange of products, one trade dealt with another, there would always be one that was stronger and one weaker — who would yield? — or else each trade should deal with one collectivity — which? The commune — but it is a local collectivity, very weak in comparison with the trade; what, for example, could any commune do against the immense group represented by the miners? So then the municipalities [communes] lead to federate and to deal collectively with the large trade associations of producers? That would bring us back to what we have today: the State (call it what you wish), the collectivity, against the syndicates; that would be the struggle.

Likewise, such a system will render difficult a more economical production, one sparing useless efforts. There are many useless or barely useful trades that no one would dream of, if it was a question of reorganizing production on a reasonable and proportional basis, but which, but if they were supported by syndicates would wish to remain and survive.

It is not non plus to suppose that a syndicate (a new little State, with all the peculiarities of a State), would reduce itself voluntarily, for it would lose influence; it would have, on the contrary, the same interest that the capitalists have today who want to sell; it would consider its products indispensable. In general, such an organism has never gone away on its own: it is there, it remains and it tends to extend itself; the State has done it and the syndicate will do it.

And yet in reality the syndicate is only the inevitable grouping for the collective struggle against the equally combined strength of the bosses. But after the victory, its reason for being ends, like that of an army after a war. Now, we presently see that the armies do not disappear after the war, that there is always the pretext of a possible future war. And the syndicates, will not go away either to make place for the free groupings that, through essay and experiment, will strive to find the true proportions essential for every organism.

You have, yourselves, spoken recently about this similarity with the armies. I think of this fact often: alongside the French Revolution, which dreamed of the common good for all (as today we dream of socialism, anarchy), grew the armies of the Revolution, which, certainly, would save it from invasion and crushing, and which in that sense would be infinitely useful (as syndicalism is for the defense of the workers against the bosses). But little by little the armies act for themselves; the makes wars of rich conquest, and in France they let it be. The moment would inevitably arrive when the army, in the person of one of its leaders (if it had not been Bonaparte, we would have had Pichegru, Moreau or some other), lays their hands on the country and establishes their dictatorship by strangling the Revolution.

The appropriation of social wealth by the individual Syndicates would be a similar coup d’état, a strangling of all socialism. And we seem to march joyfully towards this disaster, just as during the Revolution they were content in France to see the growing force of the armies — until the moment when we feel their claws at our throat.

And it is rather odd and rather sad to see the bitter enemies of braided militarism fall for this new civil militarism.

I want, in summary, to say two things: that appropriation by the Syndicates is the negation of socialism, and that in order to reorganize production and consumption it is necessary, above all, to pay attention to proportions.

That organization demands full liberty, the liberty of trial and experiment, as it exists in science; which means that it is possible only in anarchy, and that it is a question hen of generalizing that liberty that science, art, and thought have already acquired, and to work according to it on the political and social field.

The Syndicates have their importance in order to eliminate the bosses, etc., by some great blows. But after the struggle they should dissolve and join with the free organisms (cooperatives for production, etc.), already created or only in the process of creation, to let ourselves be overrun by the Syndicates would be a true disaster. So there is, more than ever, reason to strive for true anarchy.

— M. NETTLAU.

(1) This letter was written following a discussion at the group of Les Temps Nouveaux on centralization. It was not destined to be published, but the comrades who were aware of it thought there would be great interest in having it appear in the paper.

The discussion had started from this point that if an economic organization (or some other) gains in strength through the division of labor and a certain degree of expansion (ex.: small stores), there comes a moment when the benefit is destroyed more and more by waste, the result of too great complexity of the mechanisms and the general disproportion of the enterprise (ex.: laarge insurance companies, cooperatives, etc.)

N. D. L. R.

Les Temps Nouveaux 15 no. 1 (May 15, 1909): 2-3.

[Working Translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]

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Bibliography of Anarchy — II — First Works of Anarchist Literature in England

CHAPTER II

First Works of Anarchist Literature in England.

A Vindication of Natural Society: or, a view of the miseries and evils arising to mankind from every species of artificial society. By a late noble writer, namely St-John Viscount Bolingbroke (London, 1756, in-8°). Its true author was Edmund Burke.

Other editions: in Fugitive pieces on various subjects by several authors, vol. 2 (London, 1761; Dublin 1762; London, 1765, 1771; London, 1780, XIV, 106 pp., 81);

A Vindication of Natural Society… in a letter to Lord ***, by Edmund Burke, a new edition (Oxford, 1796, VIII, 62 pp. in-8°);

The Inherent Evils of all State Government demonstrated, being a reprint of Edmund Burke’s Celebrated Essay, entitled A Vindication of Natural Society, with Notes and an appendix briefly enunciating the principles through which “Natural Society” may be gradually realized (London, Holyoake and Co.,… 1858, VI, 66 pp. in-8°), publication anarchiste-individualiste; Boston edition (B. R. Tucker), 1885, 36 pp. in-8°.

__________

An Enquiry concerning Political Justice and its influence on general virtue and happiness, by William Godwin, in two volumes (London, 1793, in February, XIII, 378 and 379 — 895 pp. in-4°), the first strictly anarchist book; second edition, London, 1796; 3rd edition, 1798; Philadelphia edition, 1796, 2 vol.; there has been a 4th edition in this century, in 184 ?. The chapter on property (On Property) has been republished and forms vol. X of the Social Science Series (London 188?), published par H. S. Sait; — German translation: Untersuchung uber die politische by…. (WUrzburg, 1803, in-8°);

Cf. also: The Enquirer. Reflections on education, manners and literature. In a séries of essays (London, 1797; Dublin, 1797; London, 1823); and: William Godwin, his friends and contemporaries, by C. Kegan Paul (2 vol. London, 1876, 387, 340 pp.) and the article Godwin in the Dictionary of National Biography.

__________

The French mutualists have a distinguished precursor in William Thompson, the author of An Inquiry into the Principles of the distribution of wealth most conductive to human happiness, applied to the neicly proposed System of voluntary Equality of Wealth (London, 1824, XXIV, 600 pp., in-8″);

Other editions (abridged?), 1850 and 1869, published by William Pare.

Thompson, who first instituted a strict mutualism, turned to communism, in the course of that work, and his other works were communist (Owenite): Appeal of one half of the human race, Women, against the pretentions of the other half, Men,…. (London, 1825. XVI, 221 pp.) and Labour rewarded… (ib. 1827, VIII, 127 pp., in-8″).

Others were consistent mutualists, like John Gray, author of: A Lecture on Human Happiness (1825); The Social System, a treatise on the principle of Exchange…. (Edinburgh, 1831); An Efficient Remedy for the Distress of Nations... (Edinburgh, 1842), etc. The systems of banks, exchage bazaars, etc., etc., had already been préconisés and even put into practice in England and in America.

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Bibliography of Anarchy — I — Precursors of Anarchy

CHAPTER I

Precursors of Anarchy.

etienne_de_la_boetie_1The anarchist literature has no determined origin, not being the expression of a system invented and progressively elaborated, but the very of systems. It is born of the need to demolish arbitrary power in all its forms, the rules and duties imposed by prejudices or by force, and to give rise to the free development of humanity. Therefore every act that was accomplised and every word that was spoken in hatred of that constraint and in favor of that liberty are conscious or unconscious works of anarchy.

Not having made detailed studies in the ancient literatures, my labor will necessarily be incomplete. Moreover, it is not my intention here to give a list of all the works of libertarian tendencies which, most often, only touch upon the question without seeking its deep roots, but to rediscover the traces of some thinkers who have glimpsed a state of society beyond laws and government, something bolder, in a time when superstition and authority allows to be discussed, only the act of imagining a society, communist perhaps, but still authoritarian as we see so often emerge.

Without going back to the fabulous, evocative tales of the legends, like those of Prometheus, Cain and so many others, History, from its origins, always shows us here and there, and often from all sides at one, some deniers of the principle of authority. In the Middle Ages, we see it attached, in Germany and in all of western Europe, by some heretical sects, formulating with regard to religion their social aspirations, and of which we will only mention the Association of the Brothers and Sisters of the Free Spirit. François Rabelais enumerated the precepts of the Abbey of Thélème, which the practitioners of anarchy could still claim. In the Mondo Savio (V. Mondi celesti, terrestri ed infernali degli Academici Pellegnni…. Vinegia, 1562, irr-8″, pp. 172-184), A. F. Doni presents a theory that would not deny libertarian communism. The peasants of the Bétique (chap. VII of Télémaque) live in communitarian society along with the indigenous people of the Southern Land [Terre australe], in the customs of which the Aventures de Jacques Sadeur…. (1676) have initiated us. Without entering into more details, the descriptions of the golden age in every country and in all the literatures described essentially libertarian customs, but that golden age, relegated to a past so remote that even the memory of it is erased, how few have understood that it is in the future and that it depends on us to realize it; how many invoked Liberty without seeing anything there but an ideal of perfectible democracy!



Let us cite Etienne de la Boëtie with his work: la Servitude Volontaire ou le Contr’un [Discourse on Voluntary Servitude, aka Slaves to Duty](reprinted from the manuscript of Henry de Mesmes by D. Jouaust, Paris, Librairie des Bibliophiles, 1872, XII-66 pp.; many other editions, one of which had a preface by A. Vermorel).



The French literature of the XVIth century has been studied from our point of view by comrade Körner, recently dead, who has recovered, among other interesting works, the Apophthegmes et Discours notables recueillis de divers auteurs: contre la Tyrannie et les Tyrans, fol. 522-554 of Mémoires de l’Estât de France sous Charles IX, vol. II, 1578, s. 1., 12°, second edition (Simon Goulart).

It would be necessary to scour the works of the English socialists anglais of the era of Cromwell and those, incomparably more numerous, fo the French writers of the 18th century, among them Dom Dèschamps (see Emile Beausdre, Antécédents de l’Hégélianisme.., Paris, 1863, in-8° and B. Malon: Dom Deschamps. Un Bénédictin du XVIIIe siècle, précurseur de l’Hegelianisme, du Transformisme et du Communisme Anarchiste, Revue Socialiste, Sept. 1888, pp. 256-266), but especially Diderot (see, for example, the Supplément au Voyage de Bougainville et Les Eleutheromanes, edition of the Centenaire, Paris, 1884, pp. 87-101, 16°; pp. 5-83: commentaire); cf. I costumi del Popolo di Taiti…, Venezia, 1892, 17 pp. (brochure of propaganda published by Carlo Monticelli); with long extracts in Le Glaneur Anarchiste, 1, 2, in the supplement to La Révolte and in El Productor.


  • Emile Beausdre, Antécédents de l’hégélianisme dans la philosophie française Dom Deschamps: son système et son école [Archive.org]
  • Benoit Malon, “Dom Deschamps. Un Bénédictin du XVIIIe siècle, précurseur de l’Hegelianisme, du Transformisme et du Communisme Anarchiste” [Google Books]
  • Denis Diderot, Supplément au Voyage de Bougainville [Wikisource]
  • Denis Diderot, Les Eleutheromanes [Google Books]

From the literature of the Revolution, I will only cite: Dame Nature àsylvain_marechal la Barre de l’Assemblée Nationale (Mother Nature at the Bar of the National Assembly) by Sylvain Maréchal (1791, 46pp., in-8″), asking the Assembly to declare that Nature imposes neither god nor laws on man. But I must say that not having read this lampoon, I cannot affirm the accuracy of the information. The Adresse of Jacques Roux, presented to the National Convention (1793, in-8°) and the Vœux formés par des Français libres…., by Jean Varlet (1791 ? in-4″) could be claimed by the socialists, but not by the libertarians. The Hébertists have still not been sufficiently studied in this regard (See G. Tridon, les Hébertistes, plainte contre une calomnie de l’Histoire, 48 pp.; lre édit. dans “Candide,” end of 1864; Anacharsis Clootz…, of G. Avenel, 1805). Les Enragés, etc.


  • Sylvain Maréchal, Dame Nature à la Barre de l’Assemblée Nationale [Google Books]
  • Jacques Roux, Manifesto of the Enragés [Marxists.org]
  • Jean Varlet, Voeux formés par des Français libres, ou Pétition manifeste d’une partie du souverain à ses délégués pour être signée sur l’autel de la patrie et présenté [sic] le jour où le peuple se lèvera en masse pour résister à l’oppression avec les seules armes de la raison [Gallica]
  • Gustave Tridon, les Hébertistes, plainte contre une calomnie de histoire [Archive.org]
  • Georges Avenel, Anacharsis Cloots, l’orateur du genre humain [Archive.org]

The German literature of the 18th century, represented by Schiller, Lessing, etc., is crossed by a strong libertarian current. (V. Siurm und Drang, die Räuber [The Robbers], etc.; see also E. Weller: Die Freiheitsbestrebungen der Deutschen im 18. und 19. Jahrhundert, dargestellt in Zeugnissen ihrer Literatur [German Aspirations to Freedom in the 18th and 19th Centuries, Represented in their Literary Testimonies], Leipzig, 1847, 344 pp. in-8″). Ideen zu einem Versuch, die Grenzen der Wirksamkeit des Staates zu bestimmen by Wilhelm von Humboldt, 1792, is a curious mixture of essentially anarchist ideas and authoritarian prejudices (edition of 1851, Œuvres de W. v. Humboldt, and that of Leipzig 189?, 206 pp., in16°);—French translation: Essai sur les limites de l’Action d’Etat, two editions, 1866 and 1867;—English translation: The Sphere and Duties of Government,…. (London 1854, new edition 1870).


  • Friedrich Schiller, The Robbers [Gutenburg]
  • Emil Weller, Die Freiheitsbestrebungen der Deutschen im 18. und 19. Jahrhundert, dargestellt in Zeugnissen ihrer Literatur [Google Books]
  • Wilhelm von Humboldt, Ideen zu einem Versuch, die Grenzen der Wirksamkeit des Staates zu bestimmen [Archive.org]; The Sphere and Duties of Government [Archive.org]

 

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Max Nettlau, “Bibliography of Anarchy” (1897)

Bibliography of Anarchy

BY MAX NETTLAU (1897)

PREFACE.

Max_NettlauThe work that we publish today could only be attempted by an erudite bibliophile, having in addition the devoted collaboration of numerous friends. The friends have presented themselves and this unselfish convergence of forces appears to us to be one proof among a thousand that the anarchists, just by “doing as they wish,” know however how to unite their individual wills in a collective will. No leader, no elected or self-imposed council has given the that his book should appear.

The bibliographic essay composed by our friend Nettlau will certainly be very useful to the sincere seekers, to the conscientious historians of socialism, to all those who want to go back to the sources in order to study the problems of the contemporary movement. How many times have honest interlocutors have naively asked us if an anarchist literature existed. We can now respond to them: “Look!”

I admit for my part that I did not know we were so rich: the importance that this collection has assumed, though still incomplete, has greatly surprised me. Anarchist ideas, consciously developed in their present form, are of such recent origin that we willingly imagine that we still find ourselves in an undeveloped period of propaganda. Doubtless, the largest part of the documents cited in this collection are destined to disappear and even to hardly merit being preserved, but some of these works will certainly date in the history of the nineteenth century. Admittedly, if can be hard sometimes for the anarchists to say what they believe to be truth, but no one will be able to accuse them of “hiding their light under a bushel.” We have raised it as high as we can lift our hands, and from now one, no none in the world, let him love us or hate us, can’t pretend to ignore us.

Moreover, the anarchist literature properly speaking is only a tiny part of that which forms the vehicle of our idea. Now our adversaries themselves are responsible for spreading the seeds of revolt. There is hardly a word written, there is not even a single word worth reading, in which is not found a ferment of renewal, either with regard to the formerly conventional morals or traditional religion, or else with regard to the castes in power or orthodox political economy. What is the man of conviction who, in his statements, is not something of a revolutionary? If he can hope to have a certain influence, it is always through the new ideas, socialist or anarchist, of his teaching, for the rest is only a simple repetition, only pure reiteration of what thousands of individuals had reported before him. From their point of view as uncompromising conservatives, the fanatics of law or religion who do not want any book but the Code, the Koran or the Bible were absolutely right! “Every new work is useless if it corroborates the truth, and deadly if it differs from it.” That is to say that all contemporary literature is anarchist in some sense; our direct propaganda is joined by a thousand acts of indirect propaganda from the crowd of poets, novelists, philosophers and sociologists.

eliseereclusnadarBut there has been no book in the world to to set out our ideas as a whole or in their details, the great drama of contemporary society will suffice to show to all thinking people what movement carries us along and what ideal humanity steers towards. We see with how much impatience the individual now suffers the wills and whims of other individuals, noble, rich or constituted in dignity; it is recognized by all that authority no longer maintains itself by the gentle resignation of the weak to poorly understood duties, but that from now on it must be assured by more and more open force, constantly running the risk of breaking: the powers of this world have become the target off all derision and scorn, and their prestige is blown away into space like so many other misleading illusions. On the other hand, we note that the individual, while demanding most energetically what is considers as its individual right to live, associates more closely with all those who are animated by the same ideas and claim to the same extent the complete satisfaction of their needs. We have witnessed the birth of a Workers’ International, which some have constantly sought to destroy, and which has constantly rebuilt itself in greater numbers, promising to soon embrace the whole world, and proclaiming its will in eight, in a hundred different languages, from Europe to the Antipodes.

That is what we are taught by the great book of society open before us, and it is in order to make reading it simpler that Max Nettlau indicates to men of good will all the works of the anarchist propaganda.

Elisée RECLUS.


NOTICE TO THE READER

This bibliography is not presented as definitive: it could not be, given the manner in which it was composed. For a long time I have been occupied, between other labors, with gathering the documents necessary for the elaboration of bibliography as complete as possible — that I hope to publish one day — when some comrades offered to publish a short, succinct selection. This is that selection.

I have neglected to insert here a large number of details of secondary interest, and, on the other hand, having composed it in two months, I have lacked the time to remove the gaps that, in some parts, or only too obvious. There results an inequality in it, a lack of proportion between the different details, that I am the first to recognize.

That inequality seemed inevitable as a result of the difficulties that opposes to the inventory of the majority of the anarchist publications. Those writings, written in more than twenty languages, scattered in more than thirty countries, spread across a whole century, vanished for the most part, literally lost, put out of reach by the great circulation necessary to the propaganda, when they have escaped the continuous prosecutions and police seizures; we must not count on them finding an asylum in the public libraries, which have almost all disregarded them and, as for the most active propagandists, it most often happens that they are least in a position for anyone to make collections of them, being most exposed to the poverty, prison and exile which bourgeois society liberally bestows on them.

However a considerable part of these publications, even of the oldest, has been preserved and I must thank the friends and comrades who have communicated them to me, along with those who have spared neither time nor labor to make this volume appear.

Following the program that I had first sketch out, I will continue to collect the materials for a more sizeable bibliography, which will also include the ephemeral publications, omitted in this attempt: the manifestos, placards, broadsheets, etc., as well as the most important articles from the different newspapers.

For it is especially in the papers that the constant progress of the elaboration of the anarchist idea can be followed. If the bibliographer does not want to only be a bibliophile, if he wants at the same time to see as a historian, his work is quite thankless and retain for him only paltry satisfactions: slave of the printed word, he must — in order to make a bibliography and not a history — resolve himself sometimes to appear to neglect some sympathetic and active militants who, by chance, have only left a few literary traces, while he will mention some mediocre writings which, also by chance, have happened to be printed.

To remedy this problem, I tried to arrange the material of this bibliography, as far as possible, in chronological order and according to the successive evolution of ideas.

I count on the comrades of all countries to help me make from this first attempt a work more worthy of our idea; I ask them to indicate to me the necessary corrections and additions, and to send me all the publications, old or new, that they want to confide in me. They will not be lost: I have taken measures to assure their preservation; let them not disdain to communicate to me even the most ephemeral documents, for they are those which are lost most quickly, and are the most difficult to find.

The reader is requested to take into consideration the corrections indicated in the Errata, placed at the end of the volume.


TABLE OF CONTENTS

  1. Precursors of Anarchy
  2. First works of Anarchist Literature in England
  3. Individualist anarchism
  4. P.-J. Proudhon
  5. Mutualism
  6. Precursors of modern anarchism from 1840 to 1865 (in French)
  7. German anarchism from 1840 to 1880
  8. Mikhail Bakunin
  9. Collectivism in the International. — The Congress of the International. — Communist anarchism
  10. Switzerland
  11. France before 1880
  12. Peter Kropotkin
  13. France (1880-1896)
  14. Bourgeois society faces the Anarchists. Persecutions, Trials, etc.
  15. Belgium
  16. Italy
  17. Spain
  18. The Americas (in Spanish)
  19. Portugal. — Brazil
  20. Germany et Switzerland (in German)
  21. Austria-Hungary
  22. England
  23. Australia
  24. United States of (North) America
  25. Netherlands
  26. Scandinavian countries
  27. Russia
  28. Ukraine
  29. Poland
  30. Anarchist literature in Yiddish
  31. Rumania
  32. Bulgaria
  33. Serbia
  34. Greece
  35. Armenia
  36. Japan
  37. Africa
  38. Libertarian Utopias
  39. Libertarian colonies
  40. Authoritarian socialist criticism of Anarchy
  41. The bourgeois literature on Anarchy
  42. Modern libertarian literature.

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Max Nettlau, “Does Socialism Truly Want to Be International?” (1920s)

Does Socialism Truly Want to Be International?

(MS 1951, Max Nettlau Papers, IISH)

(no date, 1920s)

This question would appear to be useless after a century of international socialist professions of faith, after the flowering of several Internationals and the struggles of sincere socialists of all shades against nationalism. But it appears to me that it needs to be raised again in some connections, among other that of natural wealth, raw material dependent on the local fertility of the soil and other raw materials so unequally distributed in the subsoil. To whom do these natural resources, whose local distribution is so unequal, belong?—That question applies not only from continent to continent, from country to country, but also within countries, from favored regions to those that are poor. And it is linked to this other question: Is there a desire, or any factor whatsoever, that would be preferable in the distribution of these social riches to the one I have always considered the essence of all sincere socialism, no matter the school: that all monopolies must be abolished and that social wealth belongs to all,—“without distinction of color, creed and nationality,” as the International described the broad sphere of those towards which one would have as the basis of conduct “Truth, Justice, Morals.”

If we have not insisted much more on the problem offered by the unequal distribution of natural wealth, it is because a century ago, when socialist ideas, applied at first to arbitrarily constructed utopian societies, were finally applied to the real countries of that era—England, France, etc.—that problem was not as important as it is in our times. We had seen then that for many years, under the pressure of the continental blockade imposed by France under the First Empire, overseas commerce was possible and that the [political] separation of the Americas—first North America, then of all of South America fifty years later—only changed European economic life a very little. In the end, if some important materials came from overseas, like (and above all) cotton, the local monopoly on new factories for the production of textiles in England, Belgium, the north of France and the west of Germany counterbalanced the monopoly of the American producers of cotton. Thus, the unequal distribution of natural wealth was at first a legible factor; it made itself felt much more when fast steamships made practical and inevitable the large-scale importation of food, of wheat and meat;—and it was felt still more when the mines dug in every corner of the globe allowed the circulation of all the minerals, of coal, phosphates, etc., and when the multiplication of machines, of factories, spread everywhere where they were closest to the raw materials, put an end to the monopoly of the favored regions in Europe, where mechanization had been the sole master and world-tyrant just a few decades before.

Today the inequality constantly increases. Against those who take advantage of production made under the most favorable circumstances (natural riches, factories in place, new, rich, unexhausted land, isolated from petty European squabbles, etc.), against these capitalists the old European capitalists defend themselves. This is done through a war of capital, without truce and using all the resources of society. These resources are the whole machinery or the State—its commercial and labor policies, but also its national and military policies; they also include the manipulation of public opinion by means of national hatred and greed, aroused in the service of capitalism in each country, as well as the conspiracies among States, industrial and military wars under the pretexts most plausible to a public opinion that is always misled, etc. In short, the struggle against that always increasing inequality—a struggle where the weakest, the European then, and the continental above all, can only win ephemeral victories, infinitely too costly and fruitless—that struggle is destined to prevail more and more in the social life of Europe and to exclude from it, to violently chase from it all solidarity, every humanitarian idea, and all hope. Each year that struggle becomes harder, and inevitably manifests itself by the growing separation and hatred among Europeans, since the strongest among them, powerless to triumph against the worldwide inequality, persist that much more, in Europe at least, to compensate at the cost of the weakest in Europe who, according to them, must in any case perish before them, “every man for himself,” the “sacro egoismo” replacing among rivals any sentiment of solidarity—and how could it be otherwise?

So it appears truly useless to try to remedy that situation by some partial means or movement, since the primary reason, the unequal distribution of natural wealth, which the universal distribution of productive forces and means of transport produces more definitively and more triumphantly each year—since that primary reason becomes stronger every year (something a glance and the agricultural and industrial development of the nations oversees with demonstrate beyond the shadow of a doubt).

What has socialism done in the face of this development of the productive forces of the globe, which is done in the midst of capitalism, and then mitigated or diminished by absolutely no social or solidarist thought? At most, one party of the European capitalists have protected themselves against that evolution by putting money into the creation of new operations in countries overseas: that increases the complications and inextricable intrigues, but it is of no use to the European social body, which suffers from the results of that inequality, if its profit enters the pockets of some capitalists overseas or those of some European shareholders.

European socialism, having originally at its disposal only small forces—moral, intellectual, sentimental and sometimes rebellious forces, but very weak—has had more than enough to do to extend its ranks by the most elementary propaganda, to gather together some worker organizations in order to obtain some satisfaction palliative in the most urgent questions of the conditions of labor and social hygiene, it has then, after some heroic struggles, 1848, 1871, allowed a large portion of its leader to lead it down the dead end path of parliamentary government, etc.,—in short, it has never seriously considered that question, nor any other question that is truly international.

Socialist internationalism was always only, as they say in English, skin deep; to be international meant, in practice, that no international question was taken up, without being absolutely sure that everyone was in agreement in advance, and that some commonplaces were then repeated. And with the creation of the workers’ parties in each country and also of the large trade-union organizations in various countries, socialism was dominated by the masses of voters and of the workers of each trade, with their local demands and expectations, national demands achievable in each State, thus dependent to a great degree on the strength and prosperity of that State, on its superiority over its rivals. That meant, and means, that the interests of the socialist voters and organized workers of each country were and are indissolubly linked to statism, to nationalism, to the capitalist expansion of each country and that socialist internationalism remains a dead letter, a terribly weak factor in the face of a very strong counter-agent.

If things remain this way, the great mass of workers will always remain the diligent cooperators of the capitalists as since 1914 and from 1918 to this day: they have this reality, their country, before them, while the international idea—its true character, what it could produce—exists only vaguely in their minds, since the real problem, how to eliminate, through solidarity, that inequality and dispersion of the conditions favorable to production, is not posed and no satisfactory solution appears, and indeed quite the contrary.

For this same problem exists within the countries and the solutions that we struggle to give it in our time, or rather the manner in which the strongest exploit that situation, are not stamped principle of solidarity, and thus pull away from internationalism.

In the distant past Europe was made up of numerous little States, territories and cities, each of which provided for its own population or, thanks to some local specialty that they traded, they obtained the remainder of the necessary by the great, time-honored trade routes that branched out everywhere. By a historical evolution that may displease us, but which being an absolutely general fact must have a serious basis, a limited number of large States [were] born of the most aggressive or most materially favored nuclei, and through the situation of these groups of small countries, [they] gradually absorb the small States. This happened in England more than a thousand years ago, in France and in Spain five centuries ago, in Italy in the nineteenth century with the support of liberal opinion the whole world over; in Germany alone that absorption was never complete, and in Austria-Hungary the treaties of 1919 have completely defeated it. There is an obvious differences between these formations that, however disagreeable they are to us as libertarians, have still followed that inherent tendency of every being to grow, to proceed from a small to a larger sphere (and who seriously desires to do the opposite?),—there is a difference between them and the abrupt consequences of a pure and simple conquest; these rapid conglomerations infallibly crumble like the Roman Empire and that of Napoleon I and Turkey, as a continuation of Byzantium, the oriental Rome, has thus had this historical fate.

In our time these lines of evolution are despised and cast aside. Economic conquest according to the right of the strongest is at the base of all European politics, disguised as the demanding determination of the nations to manage themselves, but also all the so-called historical, strategic or other reasons that serve as pretexts. We know now perfectly—what we did not know in past centuries—to what degree the social life of each region depends on the richness of the subsoil, on the means of communication, etc. and on its power to obtain an equal or normal payment for it exports. We know the thousand methods of hindering the economic life of an enemy country (and what country is not the enemy of all the others?) in times of peace and relative equilibrium, as even in 1914—then the whole process employed unilaterally by the collective victors of 1918 and their postwar associates have naturally succeeded in completely crushing the normal economic life of the vanquished, as we see at any moment in the commercial statistics. There follows from it a growing and in reality absolutely astonishing inequality, perhaps unforeseen by anyone, between Europeans of the victorious and those of the vanquished race and even the losers differ somewhat, to believe the financial pages.

Thus far we have found no other means than to thrust the dagger every more deeply into the chest of the victims and then to twist it a little on occasion, but never to remove it. The result of all that is before us all, let us pay attention like men who see men suffering or let us leave these things aside like the bourgeois politics which could have no interest for us.

[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]

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